The nature of punishment and reward is intrinsic to the human condition, and by extension hope and expectation. In patriarchal societies we often focus on those rituals that make men manly men, but most of us first come into contact with punishment and reward through deciphering the eyes of our mothers. A feat I wager harder today with so many eyes stuck to small screens constantly than it was in the bygone days before wifi, but probably still the initial starting point. Face reading as it were more important in figuring out if we’re on the path to a cookie or a rebuke than language in our wee formative years.
In terms of those manly men rituals, military basic training is similar. Learning how to read that drill sergeant, just like you learned to read mom, is the key to avoiding punishment and reward. It is funny if you look at the psychology and language at work in a military unit…those first sergeants are often referred to as mom, captains as father (notice the more formal respect), and that colonel you see occasionally God the father, and the Sergeant Major as hmm… well just Sergeant Major, but filling the role of Sophia, the holy spirit that brings wisdom to all, usually in four letter words. Generals (during peacetime) being so rare in the day to day life of the average soldier, they’re more unicorn than family tree extension, unfathomable mythical creatures that serve a purpose no one really understands inside of your own small family unit but require much ritual and ceremony when you do in fact encounter them.
In terms of avatars for manly men, those viewing the military from the outside usually hold up Patton as the epitome of an American soldier thanks mainly to history channel profiles and the George C. Scott movie. That King Leonidas from the 300 movie brought to life. Having studied the real Patton a little in my lifetime, my conclusions about Patton are a bit different.
Patton was foremost an intuitive general who was able to project an image that combined that unicorn, God the father, and Sophia (and not a virgin Sophia, but the mother of all warriors straight from Sparta Sophia) into a trinity. He was both a father and mother figure to soldiers who followed him into hell willingly like no other allied army because they wanted to please father and avoid the disapproving eye of mom at all costs. The Patton gaze was infamous and I would wager motivated soldiers more than getting an attaboy from a general. The gaze invoked a state in an individual that existed before the formal acquisition of logic and ‘reality’. The state in which every small child coexists with superheroes and gods, the do the impossible before breakfast Alice, the child who wants to avoid the gaze of the judging, displeased eyes of mom, and instead find a grail quest to complete in order to be worthy.
This isn’t a Rambo or true grit Patton, but it is the warrior bard, the skald, the spirit of a warrior tradition that stretches back all the way to those murky mists of time concealing what I believe is the formation of the warrior code not in patriarchy but matriarchy and the great motherly judging grey eyes of feminine authority figures. I have often joked in part that the development of ancient Greece was in fact one of the first recorded sexual revolutions. The cult of the warrior turning from Artemis to Zeus as the cities replaced the holy sites in the wilderness as the seats of power for politics and culture. The rising of the sun as the moon waned if you will. Now I’ve been told repeatedly, my theory is bull (never sure if that is a Zeus or Mitrhas reference), the ‘reality’ present in the archaeological record supports none of my suppositions, but I am still rather fond of the model despite evidence to support it. My intuition failing to reconcile with accepted fact.
The irony of all this of course is Patton being held up as a manly man when in fact I think he was very much in touch with his feminine side, Jung’s anima, and his ability to project an ancient matriarchal warrior caste archetype over the more modern Zeus or Sun King Apollo. Patton was mystical, and used his intuition to help fuel his soldiers in that ‘fog of war’ Clausewitz warns about on the battlefield. Where strategy gives to the tactical and battle plans become obsolete as soon as an engagement starts and uncertainty shows its face.
In fact you could make the case that Apollo is the face of warfare planned, in preparation, in logistics, in deployment, all very important and critical to success, but Artemis still rules in the fog once battle begins. Sun and Moon, Moon and Sun. You don’t need a sun god in the fog but you do need a warrior bard who can inspire troops with the stories of warriors, the battles fought from when recorded history began, often on the same ground you find yourself fighting at present. And most important of all, that gaze… the gaze that puts you back into a state where anything is possible, where you are reenacting history, almost a dissociative condition that allows you to inhabit the role of a hero or epic warrior. Suddenly you are no more Pfc. Jones but a member of the Argo crew seeking the Golden Fleece. Odds don’t matter, superior numbers don’t matter, superior weaponry doesn’t matter…all that matters is being able to meet the grey eyes of judgment without shame, to be able to look at that trinity Patton projected in the face and the eyes knowing you did the impossible and gave it your all past the point mere mortals break. Death may be something to be feared, but in that child like state, it is mom’s disappointment, that early experience with failure and punishment you dread the most.
Another in my series of Master and Apprentice:
Master I don’t understand why we have to prune these trees. We don’t prune the great forest. Why do we choose to prune these in the courtyard?
Shaping these fruit trees helps keep them fruitful.
But the fruit isn’t any better, in fact I much prefer the apples from the trees near the south wall, and they’re not even part of the orchard.
They are sweeter aren’t they.
But they’re also smaller, and lately, less to go around it seems.
I’m sorry Master, I gave Sister Ellenweorc one last week, and she demanded I tell her where I found them.
The gaze of old grey eyes made you give up the ghost eh?
She frightens me.
And so she should, I’ve often mused the King would benefit from putting the good Sister behind the front lines. Victory would be insured I would think.
I wouldn’t want Sister Ellenweorc behind me.
Neither would I my boy, neither would I. Which is why we should get back to the task at hand.
Oh, is that why we prune the trees?
Yes, the unyielding gaze of Sister Ellenweorc drives soldier and monk alike, to work and despair. That and apple butter.
Better hurry then, we have to finish up if we’re going to make the south wall before nightfall.